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10 Cool Facts about Antwerp, Belgium

Updated on April 17, 2014
Antwerp
Antwerp | Source

Antwerp is one of the largest cities in Belgium and one of the principal ports of Europe. It is situated on both banks of the Scheldt River, about 55 miles (88.4 km) from the sea, in the center of a wide alluvial plain, about 25 miles (40.2 km) north of Brussels. It is the capital of Antwerp province.

1. The name of the city in French is Anvers and in Dutch Antwerpen. The official language of the city is Dutch.

2. The two halves of Antwerp are joined by several tunnels under the Scheldt, including three road tunnels. The city is well connected by road and rail with other major centers in Europe, and several canals connect it with the interior of Belgium as well as France and Germany. The most famous, the Albert Canal, was completed in 1939 and links the port of Antwerp with Liège and the Meuse River. During World War II the location of the canal and its high retaining walls made it part of Belgium's first line of defense against the Germans in 1940. Antwerp's airport is at Deurne, an eastern suburb.

Antwerp diamond district shops
Antwerp diamond district shops | Source

3. The name Antwerp literally means "at the wharf" (aan het werf), although a legend ascribes the origin of the name to the severed hands (hand) of mariners thrown (werpen) into the Scheldt by the mythological giant Antigonus as the price exacted when the mariners could not pay his toll on the river. (Two severed hands make up part of Antwerp's armorial bearings.)

4. Antwerp, noted for its skilled gem cutting, is famous as the diamond center of the world. Its main commercial activity, however, is shipping.

5. Antwerp is Europe's second largest port (after Rotterdam), handling (2010) more than 178 million tons of cargo annually. It is a transit port for goods going mainly to and from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. Incoming freight is distributed by road transportation, by barges on inland waterways, by rail, and pipeline. And, of course, freight arrives by the same means for transshipment on oceangoing vessels. The port is exceptionally well equipped, having expanded substantially since the 1970s. The Deurganck Dock, which opened in 2005, doubled the port's capacity to handle containers.

Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame
Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame | Source

6. Within the port area are five oil refineries and the second largest petrochemical complex in the world (after Houston's). In addition to chemicals, food processing is an important industry in Antwerp. Doel nuclear power plant is adjacent to the city.

7. The atmosphere in Antwerp is cosmopolitan, and intellectual and artistic life flourishes. The city is the home of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Prince Leopold School of Tropical Medicine, as well as of schools of engineering, business, navigation, and architecture.

8. Antwerp's towering architectural monument is the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, with a spire 400 feet high. It was begun in 1352 and completed nearly 200 years later. The largest cathedral in Belgium, it contains two of the finest works of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross. The Church of St. James (15th–16th centuries), where Rubens is buried, and the churches of St. Paul (16th century) and St. Augustine (17th century) are decorated in baroque style.

9. The city has restored to their former baroque splendors the house and workshop of Rubens and the printing house of the 16th century printer Christophe Plantin, publisher of the Polyglot Bible. Other notable 16th century buildings are the Town Hall and Butchers Hall, now a museum of industrial art. In addition, many fine old guild houses line the two squares, the Groote Markt and the Groen Plaats. Striking among the city's modern buildings are the Law Courts, with a roof line like a series of enormous sails; designed by the British architect Richard Rogers, the complex was opened in 2006.

10. Among the numerous museums in Antwerp are the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, housing more than 1,000 Flemish and Dutch masterpieces, and the Mayer van der Bergh Museum, noted for its collection of furniture and sculpture and for its paintings by the elder Brueghel. The National Museum of shipping is housed in the Steen, a part of the old castle of Antwerp, which dates from the 16th century. Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, is well stocked and includes an aquarium.

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